Fallacies: Narcissan, pleonastic, and unnatural deceleration

Since February 1999, I’ve had a web page about fallacies. Rather than regurgitating all of the usual ones that one can find elaborated in critical thinking textbooks, I collect fallacies which an author names for just one occasion. These one-offs don’t appear on the usual lists. Authors usually do this to condemn some specific target, one who has committed not some generic error in reasoning but the specific if newly-named fallacy of such-and-so.

Prompted by John Holbo at Crooked Timber, I’ve added three new specimens. One is coined tongue-in-cheek by Holbo himself to mock a book review by David Bentley Hart, and the other two are coined by Hart in his would-be hatchet job on Daniel Dennett’s book From Bacteria to Bach and Back.

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Open internet, again and always

Net neutrality is under attack again, and my first defense of it is what I wrote back in July.

As a user of the internet, I want to be able to access the content which I decide matters. I want it to come at the same speed other content would come at, rather than having it be faster or slower based on whether someone who owns that content has decided to pay more for access to me. If they get control over accessability and relative speed, then I’m not a consumer anymore but instead I’m the product that the service provider sells to their customers. That’s why net neutrality matters.

I’ve read some contrarian arguments that net neutrality isn’t such a big deal, because platforms like Google, Facebook, and Twitter  can still nudge traffic and content around according to their own private algorithms. Political agitations and manipulations via social media have shown the power of that. However, that only shows that net neutrality is not sufficient for a healthy internet.

It remains obvious to me that net neutrality is necessary for a healthy internet. Summoning more monsters won’t solve the monster problem.

Release the doggerels

Over at Crooked Timber, Harry Brighouse exhorts readers to write philosophical clerihews.

I was unfamiliaer with the form, but it’s not complicated. A clerihew is a four-line poem about some person or other with an AABB rhyming pattern. The sort of thing Ogden Nash would have written if he’d been less pithy.1

I contributed a couple, and I shamelessly cut and paste them here.

The Scotsman Thomas Reid
had a commonsensical creed,
a fondness for calico cats,
and questionable taste in hats.

The mustachioed John Dewey
might have gone all kablam and kablooey
if he had not understood inquiry
in a way that avoided such injury.

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E-publishing boondoggle

Via Daily Nous, I learn that Pacific Philosophical Quarterly (PPQ) has begun offering an odd choice to authors. When a paper is accepted, the author can opt either to have their paper appear post haste in an on-line only issue or to wait years for their paper to appear in a print issue. Articles in the print issue will appear on-line at the time of publication.

The publisher insists that the on-line only issues and the print+on-line issues will be of the same prestige and significance. After all, a paper is  accepted for publication before being assigned to one or the other.

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Recruitment blast

As I wrote a while ago, my department is trying to drum up more graduate applications. One strategy is to send out encouraging e-mails. I’m endeavoring to write to all the philosophy departments in our corner of the country. I’m presently in the middle of that, so you might hear from me soon.

In the interests of maximizing reach, I’m posting the e-mail here too.

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Characterizing philosophy

I recently came across a passage that characterizes analytic philosophy in this way: “when it comes to constructing arguments, we beat words and ideas into submission.”1 I am ambivalent about identifying as an analytic philosopher, but I don’t really recognize myself in this at all.2

Philosophical prose is not written like poetry, but I’ve never felt it was like beating anything into submission. Reflecting on why that passage felt so wrong to me, I hit on a different analogy.

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Shagg Carpet would be a good name for a Shaggs cover band

via The New Yorker, I learn that the outsider rock band The Shaggs recently had a reunion just down the road from me. Writer Howard Fishman asks

Was it fair to even call this band the Shaggs? Or was it, rather, a Shaggs cover band providing a live karaoke soundtrack for the Wiggins to sing along with?

As someone who once judged a contest in which contestants tackled the question of whether a band can be its own cover band, I can’t let this pass as just a rhetorical question.

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Two links about AI

There are some articles that I read and think I ought to blog about that. Then I realize that I basically have. So this is basically a link dump kind of post.

Link #1: Geoffrey Hinton cautions that deep learning is not especially deep

I’ve written some posts about the glitzy fad for “deep learning”. It has the same strengths and weaknesses it had when it traveled under the less-shiny banner of “back-propagation neural networks”.

Link #2: Efforts to understand the bias inherent in algorithms

Procedures that are superficially objective can encode bias. I don’t have anything deep to say here, but I’ve blogged about it before.

The slipperiness of significant publication

I’ve written before about trying to establish the significance of a philosophy publication, which mostly becomes an issue at tenure and promotion time. In an earlier post, I argued that citation counts are mostly rubbish for philosophy. Still, there are pressures to provide numerical measures.

In support of a recent tenure case, our department gave the acceptance rates at journals as evidence of their significance.1 The danger in using such a measure is that, if widely adopted, it would quickly become uninformative.2 If scholars get more credit for publishing in journals with low acceptance rates, they will preferentially start to submit to those. The journals will get more submissions but still accept the same number. This will, in turn, drive down the acceptance rates of those journals.

I recently learned that there is a name for this general phenomenon, Goodhart’s Law: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

This shifts it from being this hunch I have to being a well-established phenomenon. I can now invoke it with greater conversational gravitas. Continue reading “The slipperiness of significant publication”